“Of all the game stores you've dragged me into that was by far the worse. That was gross.” the delightful Ms. Doesn't-Game-at-All announced when I debouched from The Complete Strategist. Not the esteemed flagship off Times Square, but its deformed clone down in Falls Church, Virginia. And she was right. I clutched The Cursed Chateau in my hand, my latest LotFP acquisition and purchased to conclude my latest game master mission. I've been on a haunted house kick lately because my Clockwork & Cthulhu game has swung in this direction for the latest set piece location. My first grabs were right from my own game shelf; Tegel Manor and Castle Amber. Two rpg classics from yesteryear. Not that I thought they are a best representation of such a setting for a haunted house background, but more to pick out fractal nuggets to give guidance for the next scene in the game. Anyways, this particular adventure arc was coming to its fateful conclusion, my gaming instincts served me well and I had some decent homespun horrors, but I still wanted to conclude my haunted house studies and The Cursed Chateau by James Maliszewski had made the list.
“The floor was dirty, black mold on the walls. Every surface was sticky. But the bathroom,” here my lovely young companion visibly shook, “Pubes, there were pubes!” If she was one to shriek on a sunny southern street in public, she would have here, now, she was so unnerved. I couldn't argue the point. I've gotten used to the failed retail experience which is the usual FLGS but this was something spectacularly awful.
The Cursed Chateau gave me my vacation reading material and is a spectacular showcase of the design talent of Jez Gordon. The artist and graphic designer has done top quality work for Lamentations and his print publication chops are on unfettered display here. For myself this is the best I can say for the adventure as a whole. For twenty bucks I just got a tutorial on spot on game book layout and design. How to place your maps, how to write out your NPC's, where to place your random tables and how to add reference pages. Any DIY publisher or amature aficionado of game design should study this book.
I'm sure James is a marvelous game master at the table. From reading his old, voluminous blog on early game products I get the feeling he does what good game referees do; take a few fabulous bits and work off the actions of the PC's. But the haunted house content struck me as rather pedestrian. Maybe the “haunted house” set piece works best in play with player investment and therefore requires an extremely personal presentation. While Castle Amber, Tegel Manor and The Price of Evil can all give useful bits for the referee, I achieved my horror house building off inspiration created from the game to date. Find a place to use this classic trope in your game when you can, but I implore you embrace the loneliness of your task and rely on yourself.